Are you a history-buff looking for the perfect English getaway, incorporating at least one of our famous houses, or castles? If you are then you probably have one of these three jewels on your bucket list; Windsor Castle, Blenheim Palace and Highclere Castle.
Located in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire respectively, each are within reasonable distance from London airports, but each offer quite a different experience. So, to help you decide which location is perfect for your history loving needs we have put together a guide to what we think makes the perfect visit to each of these castles, or counties and when to book.
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If you are deep into the romance of British nostalgia for history, then you need to visit Windsor Castle,
the home of our Royal Family and where the Queen spends most of her weekends.
Less than an hour from London, Windsor Castle is an unforgettably English experience, with its many lavish state rooms, drawing rooms and extensive art collections. You can even catch the changing of the guard at 11:00am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for a real sense of pom and circumstance.
For those of you wishing to make more than just a day trip to Berkshire, we have come up with a trip we think you will love, because Berkshire offers so much more to whet your history whistle on. Berkshire is also home to Eton College, Newbury Racecourse, the Royal Windsor Horse Show, Cliveden Estate, beautiful gardens and of course the famous River Thames passes through it.
We recommend that you stay in Windsor at one of our high-end hotels, this will give you easy access to the castle, plus Eton College, where you can book a Heritage Tour to take in the architecture of the school’s historic buildings and wonder at the college collections. From there the next step is to really ease into your trip with a river cruise, preferably one that offers a full dining experience, so that you can take in the beauty of the countryside that our great river snakes through. This will give you a real opportunity to relax and quaff champagne as you see the sights… perfect for the romantics!
If you love horse riding or horse pageantry, then there is one month of the year when Berkshire really comes alive and that’s May. Around mid-May you will want to visit the Royal Windsor Horse Show and maybe book a day at the famous Newbury racecourse for a flutter on the horses. For the best seats in the house at either event we recommend booking a hospitality suite to truly make your day special.
On a sunny day you will also want to take in the gardens at Cliveden Estate, not far from Windsor and almost a stones-throw from Lambourne Golf Course (who welcome visiting golfers). Cliveden’s gardens will be in full springtime bloom and offer a variety of activities, from; walking countryside, woodland or Thames riverside paths, to dallying through landscaped formal gardens and even boating… the perfect way to spend a very English spring day.
Blenheim Palace offers a very different historical focus for us Brits. With its Baroque architecture and 2,000 acres of parkland designed by Capability Brown, Blenheim Palace has been an important venue in our history of gentry. More recently known as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and inducted into the UNESCO world heritage collection, Blenheim Castle and the surrounding county of Oxford is known for its cultural significance.
June is almost certainly the month to visit Blenheim Palace, to see the parklands in their beautiful Constable-like glory, but also to visit one of their many cultural events (which includes the Blenheim Palace Flower Show, Nocturne Live a music event and All Morgan’s Day a dedication to a display of over 600 Morgan classic cars).
If you have a little more time for your trip, then we recommend you take in some of Oxfordshire’s other beauty spots.
Staying in central Oxford gives you a choice of luxury hotels and a great base from which to explore. We urge you to take to the cobbled streets to truly explore this historic town. You have plenty of choice in guided tours, from; ghoulish ghost tours, to a Tolkien tour and of course the obligatory College campus tour. We highly recommend attending Oxford University’s Choral Evensong too.
When you are here, you simply must take full advantage of the chance to go punting. Make sure you book a chauffeur so you can enjoy a picnic along the river!
If you have enjoyed the artistry of the landscapes that have inspired so many British artists, then we recommend you visit the Ashmolean Museum to take in their art collection, which sits alongside their most famous archaeological finds from around the world. Or you could visit Britain’s oldest botanical collection at Oxford’s Botanic Gardens for a quick guide to the work of our great horticultural experts.
If you have a taste for theatrical history, then you may already know Highclere castle as the set for the British period drama, Downton Abbey. This jewel of Hampshire has a long history of other cultural significance. In recent centuries, under the direction of Lady Almina, the castle was opened as a World War I hospital to administer care for the wounded coming back from the trenches. At the end of that war with the return of her husband the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the castle became home to antiquities discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb. We recommend a private tour of the castle to really dig deep into this beautiful house and its history. If you’d like to know more before you book your visit, we recommend you watch our exclusive Humphreys at Highclere Series.
Staying just a little longer in Hampshire opens you up to our great literary history, as many well-known authors and poets have been linked to this county, most notably Jane Austen who lived at Chawton House. Visiting this house is an amazing experience! For those of you who fancy your skills as a creative writer you can even book a workshop to hone your script.
In late June, Jane Austen is remembered in Regency Week, a week dedicated to events including; literary talks and workshops, to a Regency Ball – the perfect excuse to get dressed-up and join in (There’s even a dance class if you want to learn dances like ‘La Boulangere’, the only dance mentioned in Austen’s writings).
If you prefer a Battle of the Proms experience then we recommend coming in August, where Highclere will host 10,000 concert goers for this exciting arts experience.
Hampshire is also well known for it’s sailing links, with The Clipper Race in March, Round Island Race in July, Cowes Week in August and the Southampton Boat Show in September. If sailing is your sport, then this country has it in waves!
Many of us want to pack more ‘experience’ into our travels these days and in order to do that effectively it means being a bit more organised with your trip planning.
Think carefully about what you want from your experience; culture, history, art, romance for example and search for day trips, or key events that will speak to that desire. This should give you an indication of what time of year it is best to travel to your destination.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore too – there’s nothing worse than feeling like your trip has been about whirling through a series of doors and ushered into rooms, before you get herded back into your transport to move to the next spot. To avoid this, make sure you know how long each planned tour takes and add a little time here and there, so you can take in more of the bits that interest you… after all you are creating memories.